Living Melbourne: A look under the canopy of the Metropolitan Urban Forest Strategy

Today, I joined with the Lord Mayor of the City of Melbourne, the Secretary of DELWP, the Nature Conservancy and representatives from across nearly all 33 local government authorities to launch the metropolitan urban forest strategy – Living Melbourne.

Melbourne is one of nearly 100 cities around the world who have embarked on creating a holistic, metropolitan scale, urban resilience strategy to better prepare the city to survive, adapt and thrive in the face of a rapidly changing local and global future. Supported by 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), and in response to mega trends including urbanization, globalization and climate change, more than 80 cities worldwide have so far hired Chief Resilience Officers to lead the development of city wide resilience strategies, with metropolitan Melbourne launching its Resilient Melbourne Strategy in June 2016.

One of the flagship actions from the Resilience Strategy, Living Melbourne is an Australian first – a metropolitan strategy galvanizing support for a unified vision across local government, state government, water authorities, statutory agencies, academics and more.

Students at Christmas Hills Primary School planting shrubs with Julie Meseha (waterwatch) to create habitat to attract frogs to their Frog Haven

Why does Melbourne need an urban forest strategy?

Despite the perception of extensive green areas, some of Melbourne’s local government areas have among the lowest urban tree canopy cover in Australia. Living Melbourne was conceived in recognition of the need to balance people and nature in cities and to develop an evidence base for greening a city at a metropolitan scale. But this is not just a green agenda, this is also a human agenda because ultimately unbearable heat; a lack of green space to play or exercise; and social isolation – these are human issues; and they represent a livability challenge in one of the most liveable cities in the world. Exposure to nature reduces stress and the incidence of mental illness, and provides opportunities to strengthen community bonds by providing spaces where people can congregate, connect and recreate.

The role of technology and innovation

Planting trees may seem like one of the most low-tech solutions a city can implement, but lets take a quick look under the canopy at the innovative use of technology that supported the creation of Living Melbourne.  The first challenge was understanding Melbourne’s current forest cover – the extent of it, it’s composition, it’s height, its gaps, how it connects. And this methodology built on an approach developed for Boulder Colorado – a city more than 100 times smaller in size, and with a population of around 100,000 people.

So for Melbourne this meant accessing 10,000 square kilometers of satellite imagery from 100RC Platform Partner Digital Globe, working with our partners at Trimble to train a machine learning technology called e-cognition to read that imagery, and then grounding findings with real data from councils across the city. And then the really hard work began of making sense of that mapping and turning it into a strategy. So while a greening strategy may on the surface seem like planting more trees, the innovation and effort that has gone into it is as complex as Melbourne’s urban forest is diverse.

Global expertise meets local knowledge

100RC is proud to have played a catalytic role in the beginning of the Living Melbourne journey by bringing to Melbourne experts and Chief Resilience Officers from cities that are already focusing their resilience efforts on the role of biodiversity and nature: cities like Durban, South Africa, New Orleans and Boulder in the United States, and Semarang in Indonesia.

Organisations like The Nature Conservancy, The Stockholm Resilience Institute, Earth Economics, and University of Melbourne, who each have global expertise to bring to the table. Together these organisations developed a set of recommendations for cities looking to use nature to build resilience, based on the principle that green infrastructure is real infrastructure. To learn more, read Building Urban Resilience with Nature.

The role of the Chief Resilience Officer

The importance of the Resilient Melbourne Delivery Office in moving this work forward. The vision of Toby Kent, the Chief Resilience Officer, the tenacity and drive of Deputy CRO Maree Grenfell, and the team to do what some cities believe is unachievable.

Today there are over 80 chief resilience officers around the world, with over 60 in the process of implementing their own resilience strategies together with a robust network of city leaders, business and communities. And many of these cities are already benefiting from the leadership Melbourne has shown in tackling data, partnership and governance challenges at a metropolitan scale.

Where to next

As Rockefeller Foundation and 100 Resilient Cities look to the next phase of the urban resilience movement we are proud to look back on the journey to date.  5 years after announcing the first cohort of the 100 Resilient Cities movement, 3 years since Australia’s first urban resilience strategy, and just two years after bringing expertise from across the world here to begin the journey of Living Melbourne; I am proud to say that together we are now ready to bring to the world Melbourne’s metropolitan vision for using nature-based solutions to build urban resilience.